I’m planning on discussing the development of Heroes of a Broken Land 2, covering the various design decisions that go into the game, the work that’s already completed and future development plans.
As this is a sequel I thought I would devote the first few posts to Heroes of a Broken Land 1. Specifically what I think went well, what I think didn’t go so well, and how I plan on addressing the flaws on HOBL1 while keeping the sequel true to the goals of the original game. Let’s start by looking at what I think did or didn’t work in the design.
What went well
A retro blend up of strategic town building, exploration and turn-based dungeon crawling in a procedural world.
I think the high level design – strategic world map with town building combined with retro styled dungeon crawling was a good overall design. I think I pulled off the mix fairly well, providing a nice break between dungeons with world exploration, and controlling character development through town building gave the player a good feel of progression and control. I think multi-party dungeons also brought a unique twist to the game the few dungeon crawlers have tried.
Simply put I’m pretty proud of the game as a whole that was developed. I think it was innovative and interesting and am personally quite happy with what I was able to accomplish as a solo indie developer.
While HOBL1 was inspired by the “games of old” I wanted to modernize the interface and remove tedious time sinks. Some examples of this are the global inventory, shared between multiple parties to avoid the tedium of returning to town after each dungeon. The auto-movement and auto-exit dungeons when cleared options from the mini map helped remove some pointless activities.
I tried to not waste people’s time so they could focus on the fun and interesting parts of the game. I think I achieved this and kept the “retro” feel while modernizing the UI.
I think I nailed the combat pacing. For the most part battles were quick but deadly, you had to think about your next action, but not too much. I knew there would be lots of combat in this game and I didn’t want each battle to become a long slog. This also carried over into the decision to have almost all attacks auto target based on player and monster position. That decision was a bit divisive, but I think it worked out well and kept combat moving fast.
Main Gameplay Loop
Basically the following sequence of activities was fun:
- Explore World
- Find Dungeon
- Loot Dungeon
- Upgrade Town
- Upgrade Heroes
Each activity wasn’t too long or too tedious or too complicated. This was core to making the game engaging and was really the result of hundreds of small design decisions made through development.
What didn’t go well
Mid/Late Game Balance
A lot of what I think went well above started to fall apart later in the game. Some of the fundamental rules and mechanics didn’t scale properly. Monsters got stronger faster than characters, this worked at lower levels because hero equipment would even the stats but equipment stopped scaling too early. This wasn’t the only issue, melee didn’t scale as well as magic making certain builds weaker over time. The result is the pace slowed down at higher levels, which wasn’t intended.
The whole class system kind of fell apart too. Letting heroes learn any skill via skill books was fine, it’s fun to upgrade your heroes. However letting heroes to learn any skill without limitation basically broke the class system where eventually you could afford to learn any skill for anyone. This meant that as heroes increased in level they tended to generalize rather than specialize.
The game is quite repetitive.
While the individual steps of the gameplay loop were basically fun and well tuned you still repeated them a lot, and they didn’t really change that much. A patch released about a year after the launch of HOBL (version 1.10) brought a ton of new monsters and some other content reducing the obvious repetitiveness of fighting 100 rats, but really if you played enough you’d have seen everything eventually. Many other games do have this same issue, and if the core gameplay is engaging enough this doesn’t really matter, it’s still less than ideal and detracts from the overall experience.
Procedural generation was meant to help reduce the repetitive feel by creating unique worlds and different dungeons play. But at some level it’s essentially generating more of the same. Some fault lies at the limited content – there were only 3 or 4 types of dungeon art, so everything was bound to look similar, but the generation algorithms were limited and were basically generating very similar mazes each time.
Quests and Narrative
HOBL was a very mechanical game. There wasn’t much story other than the intro and a handful of quests. Sure there were some special dungeons and a few unique encounters, but they didn’t really show up until the endgame.
Without a higher level narrative or even strong theme tying together much of the game it can make much of the gameplay feel pointless to the player. Sure, there were some limited world events (little stories and mini-quests) that would pop up and provide some text and such but they were also quite limited. Almost all of these quests ended up as a “go and kill everyone” dungeon crawl. There were some reasons for this, some technical and some due to limited time and resources, but ultimately the reasons doesn’t matter: Narrative was a weak point of the game.
The unfortunate result is much of the gameplay loop lacked any non-mechanical purpose. No plot progression, no character revelation, no unfolding story. For many people that play RPGs the story is a big part and HOBL1 failed to deliver in this regard.
Game Length and World Size
So one nice thing about a procedural generated world is you can make it any size you want. One of my original goals for HOBL1 was to enable the creation of small game so you could finish a complete RPG in a a 4-6 hours instead of 20+ hours. The problem with this goal is I never really tested it until most of the game was completed and I was happy with the pace and core mechanics.
Then I tried a small map.
10 hours later I had to go to bed and was nowhere near completing the game. Not even close.
So that was a total failure.
Sure if you like 20-100+ hour games HOBL can still be a great experience, but the start-to-finish pace was totally broken. It was also at that stage in development almost impossible to fix without re-doing so much work, especially since I was quite happy with the dungeon crawling and combat pacing.
Also, I’d like to point out that if you’re a solo game developer testing a game that takes 20 hour or more to complete is a daunting task.
So that’s enough rambling for now. Next post I’ll discuss whether I consider HOBL1 a success or not, and talk a bit about it’s development highs and low and even the almighty $$$